Long live Ubuntu

Woven Threads

July 3, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 9
Barbara Nkala |

Every Tuesday evening, my five sisters, two cousins and I join Aunt Musa Mashamba for online prayers. Aunt Musa, who recently celebrated her 99th birthday, remains a vibrant and humorous figure, even though she has outlived all her direct siblings.


Despite using a walking stick, she insists on maintaining her independence, making her bed and washing some of her belongings. Aunt Musa is renowned for her embodiment of the Ubuntu philosophy, a Southern African ethos that declares, Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu—a person is a person because of other people.


She lives it and promotes it by being a bubbly person who has respect for young and old, shows humanity, compassion, love, forgiveness, kindness and generosity, and has lived in solidarity with others. She has always been the epitome of Ubuntu.


Ubuntu embraces the values that Aunt Musa has practised throughout her life. She is dearly loved by her relatives and the community at large. Up till recently, her church still asked her to share her wisdom with congregants.


Ubuntu encourages us to cherish one another, and the spirit of Ubuntu abhors the hatred and ravages we daily hear about, regionally and globally. It embraces a spirit of community.


The spirit of Ubuntu calls for shared responsibility. In yesteryears, whatever was owned, whether land or other possessions, had to benefit everyone. For example, even if you had no material resources or implements, you would still harvest in your fields. There was ilima, a coming together of all those in the neighbourhood to plough a field or to cultivate or harvest a crop for the one who lacks. The whole team of people gathers to help somebody else. It was a communal system. It worked efficiently.


Aunt Musa always flew the Ubuntu flag high in her area. People used to bring their problems to her for counsel because of her wisdom and her beautiful Ubuntu spirit. We were surprised to learn last year that some leaders in her area continue to consult her.


Aunt Musa’s favourite scripture is Matthew 7:12: “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Ubuntu espouses the golden rule.


Aunt Musa has been preparing for her funeral for the past 10 years. When she started these preparations, she tasked a number of us nieces and some of her grandchildren with duties. Some had to sew aprons that would be worn by people serving food after her funeral. One had to enlarge the photograph that would be on display on the day. One had to prepare a long pole for a flag, and there were other tasks too. My special task was to prepare the flag that would be flying at the entrance of her home on the day of the funeral, so that all people coming in would read:



Do to others what you would have them do to you. Matthew 7:12


The scripture is in Shona, the language of her late husband’s tribe. She literally forced me to prepare the flag sooner than I had anticipated, just before Covid-19 struck. When I protested, she said, “Barbara, I want to see that everything is in place before I go to rest.”


She is still alive. We joke about her preparations to die, but we learn from her all the time. Some of those tasked to speak at her funeral have preceded her in death, so the program keeps changing, but she is at peace.


I believe Ubuntu is related to the Christian value system. In Acts 2 we read about the fellowship of believers who made up the first church. We read that, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2: 44, 45). I note among first believers all those Ubuntu values stated at the outset. This was Koinonia in action. I learnt this word when I was with Mennonite World Conference as regional representative for Southern Africa. Aunt Musa is with the Dutch Reformed Church, and I am part of the fellowship of believers under the Anabaptist faith. We all practise Ubuntu. Long live Ubuntu.


Barbara Nkala is a writer, teacher, speaker and former Southern Africa regional representative for Mennonite World Conference (2016-2022). She is a member of the Brethren in Christ Church, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe.

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